Those spending this Valentine’s Day weekend with a supportive partner have even more reason to celebrate, as a clear link between sharing a life with such a person and less risk of cardiovascular disease has been demonstrated yet again. Though scientists cannot pinpoint the exact reason why, positive health outcomes appear over and over to be associated with long-term supportive relationships.
A new study out of the University of Utah published just this month in the online journal Psychological Science, reported that those in happy relationships with partners viewed as supportive and helpful during times of crisis were far less likely than those who were in self-described less supportive relationships to show calcium build-up in the walls of their arteries, an early sign of cardiovascular disease.
Researchers had 136 heterosexual couples complete questionnaires about their relationships. They found that in 30 percent of the couples both partners felt that the other was supportive, while in the other 70 percent either one or both partners felt that the other was either unreliably supportive, or not supportive at all. The couples in which both people felt that their partner was supportive and reliable showed the least signs of cardiovascular disease as measured by the build-up of calcium in artery walls, detected through a CT scan. This was true regardless of a person’s indication of how satisfied he or she was with the marriage overall, leading the researchers to conclude that cardiovascular risk is significantly lessened specifically by the existence of a supportive partnership in one’s life.
While the researchers are reluctant to draw a cause and effect conclusion from the study, it is clear that some type of link exists between the risk of cardiovascular disease and the level of supportiveness perceived in one’s partner. They intend to research the issue further. Some hypotheses among the many as to why a link may exist are that those with supportive partners may be more motivated to take better care of their health and that those with supportive partners may experience less stress in their lives, a known factor in the development cardiovascular disease.
A spokesperson for the American Heart Association reports that she is not surprised by the findings as studies have long shown that a relationship exists between the strength of one’s social network and survival rate following a heart attack.
Indeed, this is not the first bit of research to show a link between supportive partnerships or long-term relationships and positive impacts on health. In addition to cardiovascular disease, research has shown that being married is associated with less risk of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and lung disease as well. Marriage has also been linked to longer life spans for both men and women.
While most of the scientific study in this area has focused on heterosexual married couples, research has also suggested that these health benefits exist regardless of whether the couples are of the same sex or opposite sexes, and even among those who just live together or who are just a part of stable long term relationships. This newly published study seems to suggest that having not just any partner, but specifically a supportive partner, is a key factor in preventing the development of cardiovascular disease.
By Michele Wessel